I cannot stop smiling, and it’s becoming a problem. My jaws actually ache. An unshakable happiness has clung to me for the last four days, ever since my first float at the brand new Pause Float Studio in Mar Vista. After floating weightless in a skin temperature (gross way to say 93.5 degrees) Epsom salt bath in a large pod (imagine a larger version of that egg Lady Gaga arrived to the 2011 Grammys)—I can’t lose this grin no matter what I do.
Sensory deprivation tanks and floating studios have been around since the ’70s (the very first studio opened in Beverly Hills in 1979). Currently there are about six studios in L.A., and Pause owner/founder Jeff Ono’s pods (he also has a chamber available for taller folks) are state-of-the-art.
Ono, who has worked for years in the fitness world (Sports Club, Equinox), stumbled across floating in Vancouver. “I wanted to make it an experience from start to finish,” he told me. “I loved the experience I had with floating, and I felt there was a tremendous opportunity to put forth a different environment so other people who wouldn’t typically float would feel comfortable floating.” His solution? He’s spa’d up the therapy with first-class amenities, celestial music, dreamy lights, guided meditation from a Loyola Marymount doctor, and has tea waiting for you when you emerge from a float. He has even partnered with Pause’s neighbors, Plantation and Soaptopia, to sell potted succulents and bath salts (respectively, obvs) in his lobby.
I sacrificed a modicum of tranquility and brought my iPhone with me on my first float (up to a certain point). But leave your phone out of this. That’s why you try floating—to unplug. Sensory deprivation is about letting your mind wander and getting that Dopamine kick (it does exist!). Ono has even included scientific studies on his Web site. I might have read the entire paper on the stress relief findings of repeated floating before heading over there, but you are supposed to go in with no expectations. Here’s what happened next:
You enter the lobby off busy Washington Blvd. The blinds are drawn on the floor-to-ceilings windows so you only see vaguely make out the rushing cars outside and ethereal music drowns out the traffic. You are greeted and given the scoop on floating if you are a first-timer. You can hang out with other people flipping through New Age-y books and sipping tea, decompress in a candle-lit, cushion-strewn room to the right, or get right to your private room (shoes off before entering). The entire mod yet dreamy space was designed by architect Jose Antonio Gonzalez (JAGAR Architecture). Right now Ono has three pods and one floating room.
Private Floating Room, Pod, and Shower
The Superior-brand float tank is a little bigger than a Fiat and emits a blue light and celestial music. The room smells electric (the filtration system–it completes the cycle three times between floaters) with hints of lavender. There is a shower in the corner and ear plugs on a table. I shower (more aromatherapy products) and put my earplugs in.
Closing the Lid
I’m in. You can wear your swimsuit (but it’s not recommended—they send you tips before you arrive). I am now kneeling in 11 inches of water and 25% Magnesium Sulfate (Epsom salts), which makes the water thick and slippery. You can fall asleep in here and you won’t drown or flip over. The solution is just too dense. You know that scene in The Matrix when Neo wakes up naked and covered in goo? It’s like that, only less terrifying.
I sit down in the water and my legs start to float. There’s a clean towel hanging inside in case any salty water splashes in my eyes. The blue light and relaxing music continue to play. They do so for another few minutes while I close the lid, before a woman’s voice tells me my session is beginning. There are two big white buttons on the side to control the lights and the music. I keep the trippy blue light and the tunes on. It’s time for this iPhone to exit the vehicle.
Looking Up Inside The Pod
I shut my eyes and starfish it—arms out, legs out. Within seconds it feels like I am floating toward the ceiling, like my nose will touch the top. I put my arm up so I don’t bump the ceiling of the pod. I am no where near it. Whaaa? I cannot even begin to touch it; it is another arms length away. I feel like a balloon on a string. With earplugs in I can only hear my heartbeat and breathing. Once in awhile my fingertips bump up against the sides.
Within half an hour (a guess, I’ve lost all sense of time) I rotate my ankles, which both crack (too many days in flip flops). So does my neck from hours at the computer. Everything is untwisting, and my joints are stretching out. I finally get brave and turn off the blue light and the music. Now things are getting primordial. I touch my stomach because I am sure I am under water, but I am not. Forty-five minutes in (?), my mind completely powers down. Intense relaxation achieved.
Too soon, future lady tells me the pod will soon begin the filtration process. The blue light comes back on. My 60 minutes are up. I open the hatch and gingerly get out. The Epsom salt solution has made me, the pod, and the pebbled floor, slippery. I hang on tight. A quick shower and I am back in the lobby.
The Float Room
I pass by the float room, the one for people sweating claustrophobia or who are taller than the pod. There’s hot ginger tea waiting in the lobby. I sit down on a couch for awhile, not wanting to hit the hustle just yet. My spine feels elongated (Ono reminds me astronauts grow two inches in space minus gravity), and I am definitely sitting up straighter.
It’s A Place You Want To Hang Out In
I’m hooked. Sign me up. This is better and cheaper than massage and the effects last longer. This gooey feeling of well-being has so far lasted through four one and a half hour commutes and one near collision. I even waved and smiled at the creep. We’ll see how many more days I can ride this out. The only thing that can stress me out right now? If this place gets too busy.
Photographs courtesy Pause